JC / Railbird

Summer Bird


Take care, race promoters, Steve Crist has a peeve:

The word “champion” has a very specific meaning in Thoroughbred racing: The winner of a year-end divisional championship. The Breeders’ Cup has done its best to devalue the word by referring to any winner of a Breeders’ Cup race as a “Breeders’ Cup champion” whether or not that horse also wins a championship. Now Monmouth Park is also misusing the word in promoting the principals in the Aug. 2 Haskell as “Preakness Champion Rachel Alexandra” and “Belmont Stakes Champion Summer Bird.”

Rachel Alexandra is 1-to-100 to be the champion 3-year-old filly of 2009, and Summer Bird is a possible contender for the male version of that award, but until the Eclipse Awards are announced next January, neither should be called a champion.

While on the topic of language usage, how about banishing the phrase “taking on the boys” (and its variations, “running against the boys,” “battling the boys,” “facing the boys,” etc.) from turf writing? It was a hoary phrase before the “Year Era of the Chick” began, but with Rachel Alexandra making a habit of stepping outside her division, and a number of other distaffers doing the same recently, its use has tipped from colloquial cutesiness into egregious abuse. I know it can be tough to write about a subject repeatedly without resorting to cliché — how many ways are there, really, to talk about a female horse racing in open company? — but this is one that needs a rest.

Related (if you’re into such things): A bracing excerpt from Kingsley Amis’ “The King’s English.”

Monday Notes

– Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra breezed six furlongs in 1:13.80 this morning at Churchill Downs, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:28. “She went beautiful, like she always does,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “She’s in a nice rhythm and seems very happy right now.” No decision yet on where she might start next. Owner Jess Jackson has mentioned the June 27 Mother Goose at Belmont as a possibility, but the racetrack rumor much-repeated over the weekend, including from those who had seen her recently at Churchill, was that the filly is not training well and may be away from the races longer than her connections publicly anticipate. Of course, while it’s true that her work times have been less zippy since the Preakness (in her final breeze before that race, she went four furlongs in :48.40 versus the :50.20 she posted in the first work after; in her one five furlong breeze before the Oaks, she went the distance in :59.40 compared to the 1:01.60 of her work the first week of June), it should be noted that she has kept to her training schedule without apparent incident, working three Mondays straight for her new barn.

Tweeted @EJXD2 on Sunday, in reference to Birdstone’s successful Triple Crown season as a young sire:

The last time [a] sire was represented by two different classic winners in his first crop was Count Fleet in 1951.

For the trivia-interested, there’s some additional historical similarity between the two sires and their winners in that, like Birdstone, Count Fleet’s first classic winner was a little regarded Kentucky Derby longshot, Count Turf, who beat another Count Fleet colt entered in the Derby, the favored Counterpoint. He went on to win the Peter Pan in record time and then the Belmont Stakes as the third favorite. According to the Belmont chart comments, “Counterpoint permitted … Count Turf to go to lead … regained the lead when the latter gave way.” Sounds a bit like what we saw on Saturday …

– There may be layoffs at Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times, and the newspaper industry in general may be imploding, but Daily Racing Form is doing fine, reports the New York Times.

– After the race: Visiting Summer Bird in his barn after the Belmont Stakes.

After the Race

Blanket of Belmont carnations draped over a barn window sillTwo hours after winning the Belmont Stakes, Summer Bird was in his stall, taking in the small crowd gathered to admire him.

There was trainer Tim Ice, asking people to keep it down — “The horse is starting to get worked up” — and owner Dr. K. K. Jayaraman, beaming at every congratulations offered. Jockey Kent Desormeaux swept in, accompanied by his family, to shake hands and stroke the winner’s nose. Summer Bird turned and posed — snap, flash, went a camera — turned again and paused, his ears pricked.

Across the way, the blanket of carnations hung over a barn windowsill, representing not only the colt’s first stakes win, but his owner-breeders’ first Classic victory.

“This was the best to win,” said Jayaraman, who — with his wife, Devi — has been breeding and racing horses since 1983. “We had one other, 20 years ago …” That one other was Irish Actor, winner of the 1988 G1 Young America Stakes. Reminiscing with another well-wisher, Jayaraman recalled the horse had finished seventh in the 1989 Kentucky Derby, eighth in the Belmont.

It was time to leave, for most. But not the Jayaramans. The couple remained with their homebred winner as the shedrow crowd cleared out. It had taken them two decades to return to Belmont, and they were in no rush to go.

(Originally posted on Raceday 360, June 7, 2009)

Belmont Day

6:55 p.m. update: The finish …

Triple Crown season came to an end almost as surprising as its beginning, with 11-1 Summer Bird — the other ‘Bird — pulling away to a 2 3/4-length win in the Belmont. Dunkirk, the unexpected pacesetter, was game to the end, finishing second, a neck in front of Mine That Bird, who had taken the lead in the mid-stretch and seemed on his way to victory. “He run a great race, he just got beat,” said trainer Chip Woolley. “You have to accept that and go on.”

5:10 p.m. update: Love for Better Talk Now …

It has been two years since the 10-year-old Better Talk Now has won a race, but the gelding has his fans. As he circled the paddock, applause and cheers could be heard, as could one woman’s plea for a safe trip. “Take good care of the old gentleman, Jeremy.”

4:52 p.m. update: A logical play, in hindsight …

Gabby’s Golden Gal goes wire-to-wire in the Acorn, running fractions of :22.61, :45.39, 1:09.01, before finishing in 1:34.79. She pays $28.40, the highest price yet on the day. “Oh, jeez,” says an exasperated horseplayer after. “If only I’d noticed this — she won the Sunland Oaks!” Replies another, “It’s the Sunland angle!” Gabby’s Golden Gal is also by Medaglio d’Oro, who is proving a superb sire of stakes fillies; she is the second G1 winner for the stallion, the other being Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra.

3:58 p.m. update: In the paddock for the Woody Stephens …

Everyday Heroes is nervous, pulling at his groom, rolling his eyes at the crowd. Trainer Tim Ritchey has him taken behind the saddling stalls, where he rears and spins.

Comes the call for riders up and one is missing. Triumpant Flight is walking toward the paddock exit without a jockey, but here comes Kent Desormeaux, jogging and apologizing all at once to trainer Eric Kruljac. “Sorry, sorry,” he says, and Kruljac hoists him up almost at the last possible moment.

Trainer Rick Dutrow, being interviewed by Jeanine Edwards on ESPN:

Rick Dutrow

3:23 p.m. update: Just a Game upset, early Belmont wagering …

In the biggest upset of the day yet, 3-5 favorite Forever Together finishes second to 9-1 Diamondrella after getting caught on the rail without room to room. [Said jockey Julien Leparoux afterwards: “I didn’t think I had that tough a trip. The only thing I can say is the winner got the jump on us in the stretch.” Diamondrella was in the clear, outside.]

Early wagering on the Belmont has Mine That Bird at even money, Charitable Man at 5-1. Dunkirk and Chocolate Candy come in at 6-1, and Mr. Hot Stuff, at 21-1, is the longshot of the field.

Pick Six pool total comes to more than $1.6 million.

2:50 p.m. update: Fast track …

The Belmont main track was upgraded to fast after the True North Handicap, which was won impressively by favored Fabulous Strike. Jockey Ramon Dominguez wasn’t the only one shaking his head in amazement when the 6-year-old gelding crossed the wire in 1:07.25 after running the first half mile in :43.62 while dueling with Sixthirteen. Benny the Bull, making his first start in nearly 11 months, finished a game second while attempting to close on the outside.

1:45 p.m. update: A few quick notes to get started …

The track is good, the turf soft, the weather ideal. “It looks like it’s going to be speed from the inside all day,” jockey Richard Migliore told John Pricci. It would seem so, after the first three dirt races.

Walked through the grandstand and the backyard and found a happy, growing crowd front and back. A track employee, looking out over the third floor, estimated the final attendance number would come in around 45,000.

Heading into the stakes portion of the card and only a few scratches to report: I Lost My Choo is out of the Just a Game, Regal Ransom out of the Woody Stephens, and Champs Elysees and Premium Gold out of the Manhattan. Not sure any of those scratches make any of those races easier to play.

All the Belmont Stakes starters made it into the detention barn without incident, and Mine That Bird appeared to settle into his stall comfortably. Sartorial note: Trainer Chip Woolley, who wore pressed jeans to the Kentucky Derby, is wearing a pair of tan slacks … and his cowboy hat, of course.

Calvin Borel, named to ride one horse on the turf today, has taken off his mount. The jockey won’t ride before the Belmont.

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